But...hang onto that thought for a minute. There may be someone else who we are overlooking when it comes to influencing children.
In fact, some researchers say this person welds even more influence than parents in a child's life.
Who is it? Their pastor? No. Their grandparents? No. Their teacher? No. A sports coach? No.
Okay...here's the big reveal. It's their siblings. Yes, you read it correctly. When it comes to our development, brothers and sisters can be even more influential than parents. This includes when the sibling is "older and cooler" or "younger and bothersome."
82% of kids live with a sibling. That's a higher number than kids who live with their father. Think about it. Our sibling will be in our life longer than even our parents. Siblings affect a child's life as they are growing up together. This is true in both positive and negative relationships.
When a child's relationship with their sibling is harmful, it can lead to increased use of drugs and alcohol. And when a sibling bullies his or her brother or sister, it can cause the child to become depressed, anxious and even engage in self-harm.
However, when the relationship is good, the sibling benefits greatly. Research suggests that as kids' relationship with their parents grows different over time, their relationship with their brothers and sisters becomes stronger.
Older siblings can also influence younger siblings to engage in risky behavior. Younger children want to be like their older siblings and usually admire them. This makes them more susceptible to trying things that are harmful. Why? Because their older brother or sister is doing it.
An example is pregnancies. Girls are more likely to get pregnant outside of wedlock if an older sibling did so first.
Sibling influence is for a life-time. A survey was done of more than 1 million Swedes and the results found that the risk of having a heart attack spikes after a sibling dies from having a heart attack.
We spend the majority of our time, resources and strategy trying to help parents be the primary spiritual influence in their children's lives. And we should.
But...this may fall short if we don't also influence siblings.
I believe we need to go to the drawing board and come up with a new strategy that includes influencing siblings and helping them discover how they can make a positive difference in the lives of their younger brothers and sisters.
I don't know of anyone who is including a strategy to influence siblings. And that means we are missing a key element in raising kids to love Jesus.
- We taught pre-teens how to influence their younger siblings for Christ?
- We showed elementary children how to read Bible stories to their younger siblings?
- We encouraged teenagers to be intentional about helping disciple their younger brothers and sisters?
- We had teens participate in their brother's and/or sister's milestones.